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I-CAR Conference Hones in on New Materials, Connected Cars

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DETROIT, July 30, 2014—Opening with a powerful presentation on Ford’s new F-150 and closing with a discussion about advanced electronics, communication and safety, the 2014 I-CAR Conference focused on rapid auto evolution and the collision industry’s need to adapt.

Robert Fascetti, vice president of Powertrain Engineering for Ford, and Larry Burns, an engineering professor at the University of Michigan and former vice president of R&D and Planning for General Motors, were the event’s keynote speakers. Eight other speakers with expertise in advanced vehicle materials, vehicle automation, electronics and communication rounded out the day. John McElroy, host of Autoline This Week and Autoline Daily, moderated the discussions.

The conference aimed to address what I-CAR CEO and President John VanAlstyne has called the “technical tsunami” that is transforming the collision repair industry. Surviving the tsunami requires maintaining a strong industry "ecosystem" of repairers, insurers, educators, services, suppliers and OEMs, he said. 

"Ecosystems can thrive or they can die based on the interaction of species and the checks and balances that apply across the ecosystem," VanAlstyne said. 

He said he didn't believe the collision repair ecosystem was thriving yet, and that it would be well served by agreeing to at least three guiding principles: 

1. Complete safe and quality repairs

2. Knowledge and training is required

3. Focus on the consumer

"These principles already exist and they have already been defined by the industry," VanAlstyne said. "They come to life in the I-CAR vision statement." 

In a press event after the conference, he said I-CAR has made a push to stay on top of the wave with a strong focus on OEM connectivity and staffing changes that have increased capacity in technical education development and execution. The speaker lineup in Detroit illustrated I-CAR's commitment to staying on the cutting edge.

Specific discussion topics included manufacturer efforts to "lightweight" vehicles with aluminum, carbon fiber and advanced steels to meet stringent fuel economy standards by 2025; the evolution of powertrains, the advance of vehicle-to-vehicle communication, crash avoidance and self-driving technology, and the dramatic evolution of the automobile in general. 

"It's really important for the collision repair industry to speak to the change, to know what the industry should be anticipating and responding to," said keynote speaker Larry Burns in a prepared statement.

Burns said he expects lower demand for repairs as crashes and severity decrease. At the same time, he said collision repair will become more complex, requiring greater capablity, knowledge, equipment and information systems. 

I-CAR reported 367 registered attendees at the conference, up from about 250 last year. The organization is rolling out a campaign to better educate consumers on the importance of going to trained shops for repairs and is also hoping that the technical tsunami will prompt more repairers to seek further education. 

"To survive the tsunami, you better be trained," VanAlstyne said. "So we're getting that message out and I'm not sure it's getting through to everybody quite yet, but you know what? It's a drum that needs to be beaten." 

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